Inquiry Mini-Genre: Student Class Notes

Class notes are a type of inquiry students use to investigate the material that they are learning in class.

Student Notes from an English Class

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Student Notes from an Engineering Class

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Student Notes from a Psychology Class

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Use the Toolkit

Let’s use the three genre toolkit questions from Chapter 1 to examine this genre.

What is it?

These class notes were all written by college students. You’ll see that most students list the course title and date at the top of each page. Possibly, the students wrote that information before class began, in order to keep notes organized.

The notes are not always written in complete sentences. Some are funny asides that the author wrote to herself to help her remember important points (e.g., “girls, girls, girls” in Josephine’s English class notes in Example 1).

The students have written down notes from what the professor said in class as well as notes from class discussion. Josephine, in example 1, wrote down a question that another student asked that she found important. In this way, the student has engaged in discussion by listening closely to what others are saying. Jenna, in example 3, has included a column for questions that she might need later on when she is working on a paper.

You’ll see that each student has developed his or her own note-taking system. Josephine, in Example 1, takes notes on her computer, while Patrick in Example 2 and Jenna in Example 3 feature handwritten notes. Jenna, in Example 3, has developed a template that she prints out and uses for all of her classes.

Who reads it?

Each student wrote these notes primarily for his or her own use. They need to take good notes because these notes are important to their grades. For example, one student might use his notes later in the semester to prepare an essay for the course, while another might use her notes to study for a final exam.

Sometimes, though, students share their class notes with each other—for example, to help a student who missed class get caught up.

What’s it for?

Class notes help a student learn the material. By taking notes, the student summarizes, in her own words, the readings, lectures, and class discussions of a course. Putting course material in one’s own words is essential to this type of inquiry—and all inquiries—because using one’s own words forces a writer to formulate her own ideas about a subject. Later in the semester, these ideas might become the content of an essay, a presentation, or an exam answer.